Well, you say that

I wrote previously about parts 1 & 2 of Adam Rutherford’s The Cell. I just watched part 3 (the final part) and the confusion continues.

The main point of this episode was to tell us how life first started on Earth through spontaneous generation. As I noted before, this seemed rather odd since the first episode told how Louis Pasteur showed the idea to be ridiculous. Basically, scientists have changed the rules since Pasteur’s time (note: I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to do this, if there’s good reason).

Louis showed that organisms did not form spontaneously in his mixture of useful chemicals.

These days, scientists just have to show that certain chemicals that are important parts of living organisms can form in the right conditions. Rutherford kept talking about what early Earth was like, but as far as I can see, the only reason people believe Earth was ever like that is because it needed to be for life to have the slightest chance of starting spontaneously. He gave a few examples of experiments producing important chemicals, but never tried to explain how they could have come together in exactly the right way to form the first living cell. If I remember rightly, there were 161 different structures, all immensely complicated, necessary for life.

It was admitted that this sort of science is actually just intelligent guesswork. “We can’t go back there so we have to come up with reasonable sounding ideas.” This really puts it into perspective. Even if life could have started like they suggest, that doesn’t mean it did.

A few statements made in the show:

All cells come from other cells. Over the three episodes the Doc repeatedly emphasised this as a basic bedrock fact of science. I don’t have any problem accepting this. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for spotaneous generation though.

All organisms on Earth came from one cell at the beginning. Hang on, assuming for a second that spontaneous generation could have happened, why did it only happen once? If the right conditions were present, why didn’t it happen repeatedly?

DNA makes RNA makes proteins. A scientific “dogma”. Interesting. People who have tried to explain spontaneous generation to me before have suggested that DNA evolved from RNA, from proteins, from amino acids.

Parts of this animation were used in the show:

I know it’s only a computer animation, but presumably it is based on reality, and I think it’s awesome. Personally, it puts me in awe of the designer of this incredible machine. I’m all in favour of studying it more and more deeply, but don’t try and explain how it evolved from nothing all by itself, you just sound bonkers.

Astro-biology. Seriously? Us theists are always told we’re just pushing the question of why there’s something rather than nothing further back, by suggesting God created matter. To be fair, Rutherford didn’t just suggest that “life came to Earth from space”, he spoke to someone who found some important molecule on a meteorite.

Thankfully the whole hour wasn’t spent speculating on how life might have started on Earth, he also looked a bit at where genetic engineering could go in the future. I found this bit really interesting, and some of the possibiblities are really exciting, but there are some questions about where lines should be drawn. I think I’m less against playing around with this stuff than some Christians, but there are points where playing God could go too far. Producing a synthetic organism to kill cancer would obviously have great benefits, but I can see some scientist in the future trying to mess with the human genes themselves, probably not to make a glow-in-the-dark person, but there could be all sorts of problems. The concept of designer babies isn’t exactly brand new, but if it means selecting an embryo with the right properties and destroying the others then (like abortion) it’s definitely wrong.

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One thought on “Well, you say that

  1. “If the right conditions were present, why didn’t it happen repeatedly?”

    Hazarding a guess: Simply because the chances of it happening even once are very, very, very small. Like tossing a coin 1’000 times and getting all heads (odds = about 1 times 10 to the 300th). The ‘conditions’ for that are there once you have a coin, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll do it even once in millions of years, let alone repeatedly.

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